Lawrence school district to compile, share data gathered from conversation on public safety

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Community members pack the Lawrence High School cafeteria for the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

Lawrence school district staff will be compiling a lot of data in the coming days and weeks in hopes of starting to form solutions to safety issues in schools.

In the wake of several weapon- and threat-related incidents at Lawrence schools over the past couple of weeks, district administrators held a community conversation on public safety that drew hundreds of parents, teachers, students and community members to the Lawrence High School cafeteria on Thursday evening.

The audience first heard from school board president Jessica Beeson, Superintendent Anthony Lewis and Deb Boatright, who helped launch the Douglas County chapter of the Be SMART campaign, which aims to reduce child gun deaths.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis speaks to the audience at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

After the presentations, Lewis asked attendees to consider four questions in small groups and write their answers on large sheets of paper. The district asked what the community does well in providing for the safety and security of Lawrence children, what gaps exist, what additional supports and resources could help strengthen safety, and what additional information attendees would like to share, such as research they’ve read.

“Schools can’t do it alone,” Lewis told the crowd. “And if we dare think that we can close our doors and do the work that needs to be done without students, if we think that we can dare close our doors and ensure that we’re safe without involving the community, we are sadly mistaken.”

He also pointed out a few security measures that are in place and that ensure that “the adults running around the building are the adults that are supposed to be here”: ALICE active shooter training for staff, lockdown drills, school resource officers at the high schools, secured main entrances and staff ID badges.

But he said there’s still work to be done for students, “our most precious commodities.”

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Mike Amyx, a Democratic representative of the 45th District of Kansas, engages in discussion at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School. Amyx is a former Lawrence mayor and city commissioner.

Lewis reiterated several points that he shared with the Journal-World in an interview on Wednesday. He wants to ensure that all district students have an adult in their school that they can trust and connect with.

He also encouraged parents to both put down and pick up their phones — take time at dinner to put the phones down and actually talk, but also monitor kids’ social media accounts. If a kid posts something on social media that says “I hate LHS,” for instance, that’s a warning sign, and an opportunity to talk to them about what’s going wrong, Lewis said.

“All teenagers tend to put their emotions of what they’re going through on social media,” Lewis said. “… They’re posting their food that they’re about to eat, right? But they’re also posting exactly how they’re feeling.”

Boatright gave a brief explanation of how to “Be SMART”: Secure guns in homes and vehicles, model responsible behavior, ask about unsecured guns in other homes, recognize the role of guns in suicide and tell peers to follow the same guidelines. She noted that securing guns means they’re locked, unloaded and stored separately from ammunition.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Deb Boatright speaks about the Be SMART program, which aims to reduce child gun deaths, at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

Several attendees who spoke with the Journal-World largely said the meeting was a good first step, and a good start to work toward solutions.

Abby Gonzales Hoffman, an English teacher and faculty adviser to SAFeR — Students Advocating Firearm Education & Reform — at LHS, said it was good to start having the conversations, but there’s a lot more that needs to happen.

“I was hoping that they’d be able to ask questions, especially with SAFeR here; there were students here, and I know there were teachers in the audience,” Hoffman said. “So I was hoping that folks would have had the opportunity to ask questions, or at least leave questions so that they could have been answered at a later date.”

Given the high turnout, though, Hoffman said the format of collecting answers on paper was the best option.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Community members pack the cafeteria of Lawrence High School for the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

Isabella Vermooten, a 14-year-old LHS freshman, said she thinks it’s about time the conversation happened, though she’d hoped to see a better student turnout.

“People need to get active and stay angry,” she said.

She had helped organize a walkout last spring as part of a nationwide movement in protest of gun violence in schools, and she said mental health was a big problem for students.

“Out of everyone I know, I am the only one with a stable relationship to my parents, who haven’t divorced, haven’t been in jail, or don’t do drugs or smoke or have guns or anything like that,” she said.

She noted that a lot of her friends won’t seek mental health help because they’re afraid and don’t trust adults. She also said that with increased security in recent weeks, some friends have had panic attacks because the officers remind them of a bad night when their parents weren’t stable.

Tiffany Lewis, wife of the superintendent, said she’s excited to see the data from the small groups once it’s compiled. She also shared a few ideas about building relationships with students.

“Being a parent, I think we need to have more courageous conversations and more mentorship programs, so that’s one of the things I want to try to do with the district — get a group of women together to help mentor some of the students,” she said. “… If I can help, I’m going to help. It’s part of my community now, so I need to step up and help.”

Lea Bruce, a Lawrence resident, said she liked the initiative to match students with a trusted adult.

“I think it’s a good step to engaging our students and making sure that they feel safe,” she said.

Tim Silvers, parent of a Lawrence High freshman, said he liked the positives of the presentations.

“I hope he continues to push and move things along quickly,” Silvers said of the superintendent. “Don’t wait for construction to start fixing more problems … we’ve got to take care of it now, and I think he has the right mentality and ability to do it.”

Lewis told the crowd that district staff would work to compile the data from each small group; then it will be posted online at usd497.org/safety. The district will hold a similar meeting in March at Free State High School, though the exact time and date have yet to be decided.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact schools, health and county reporter Mackenzie Clark:

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis speaks with Jalon Hutchens, the mother of two Lawrence High School students, at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Olathe Police Officer James Cole engages in discussion at the community conversation about public safety at Lawrence High School on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Cole attended the community conversation as the father of Lawrence High and Southwest Middle School students.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Christy Schneider writes down ideas at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Lawrence school board President Jessica Beeson introduces Superintendent Anthony Lewis to the audience at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis speaks to the crowd at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis speaks to attendees at the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Raye Ann Novotney participates in the community conversation about public safety on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Lawrence High School.

More coverage: Recent gun incidents at LHS

Feb. 14 — Boy who took gun to LHS this week stole it from parent, charges allege

Feb. 12 — Lawrence school district announces immediate actions to address gun incidents on campus

Feb. 12 — Lawrence High student allegedly brings gun to school; incident is second in a week, fifth in district in past year

Feb. 8 — Criminal charges filed against student who reportedly brought gun to LHS

Feb. 7 — Lawrence High student acted out in class before staff found gun in his bag, school district says

Feb. 6 — LHS student brought gun to school, Lawrence school district tells parents


More coverage: Recent threats at Lawrence schools

Feb. 14, 2019 — Lawrence middle school student allegedly threatens shooting during bus ride

Feb. 13, 2019 — Police, schools investigating Lawrence student’s report of threatening social media post

Feb. 6, 2019 — DA drops felony charge against Lawrence sixth-grader accused of school shooting threat

April 23, 2018 — Affidavit: Free State student charged with felony threat told police he’d had thoughts of ‘shooting up a school’

Coverage of other incidents in past year

Sept. 21, 2018 — Student reportedly brings hunting gun to Free State High campus; police investigating

Sept. 14, 2018 — 2 arrested after reported gun sale between students at Lawrence High School

April 9, 2018 — Gun found in backpack at Free State High School; student arrested

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